Jason Meadows

Shane Campbell Gallery | South Loop

Jason Meadows now lives in Los Angeles, but he’s originally from Indianapolis and attended the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. As this exhibition everywhere suggests, at some point he got inculcated with the core traditions of Chicago art, particularly its obsessive blue-collar insouciance—its affection for scrupulous but low-tech craftsmanship and its earnest and unapologetic sympathy with proletarian and vernacular culture. Take, for example, Hamburger Tower (all works 2008). It’s a pretty straightforward painting of a hamburger—if hamburgers were six feet tall and had about forty layers of fixings—and is probably the most assertive and interesting evocation of America’s number one sandwich since Two Cheeseburgers, with Everything (Dual Hamburgers), 1962, by Claes Oldenburg (who was also raised and educated in Chicago). Resembling a sign for a burger joint, Meadows’s image openly embraces working-class culture, serving as an apotheosis of the everyday that earnestly celebrates, rather than ironically judges, a kitschy slice of Americana.

That Meadows is also working in H. C. Westermann’s shadow is made clear in the show’s two largish vertical sculptures, which betray carpentry as skillful as the late artist’s and a similar embrace of the lowbrow, the quirky, and the suggestive. In Vertical Cellular Panel, for example, Meadows has assembled what seem like random found objects—tennis balls, semicircular panes of Plexiglas, wood, bungee cords—into a tautly and immaculately constructed absurdist stele. The tower consists of four vertical compartments sealing in tennis balls that suggest elements of a kinetic machine, recalling Rube Goldberg’s assemblages demonstrating perpetual motion. The other sculpture, It’s Raining in Tokyo, is also a slim stele, this one capped by a series of setbacks forming a Japanese-pagoda-style roof, the “rain” superbly suggested by a cascade of plastic six-pack rings—a testament to Meadows’s subtle wit. Its internal logic is scrupulous, almost fetishistic in its concentration on its own objecthood; here Meadows uses relatively low-tech elements—including lightbulbs—to create a paean to carpentry and construction, to the type of obsessive handiwork that valorizes labor and craft.

The five untitled works on paper bring to 
mind Chicago Imagists such as Karl Wirsum
and Ed Paschke. For these pieces, Meadows
 begins with posters advertising beer—the 
type of images that feature bikini-clad
 women in tropical locales and that are
 found in any neighborhood liquor store 
(many here are for Mexican brands, per
haps a sign of the artist’s living in Los Angeles). Using stencils, he spray-paints
 additional bikini babes on top, though he
 never covers the original image fully, as if 
some of the cheerful and almost manic 
delusion it sells, some of its promise of sex 
and inebriation, is important to him. The
 collision of slick marketing photography
 and a more urban kind of signage makes 
for jam-packed compositions, which 
become even busier in the final stage of 
Meadows’s process, in which he overlays 
them with subtle patterns of small diamond 
shapes and such. Here, it seems, Meadows 
has applied strategies rooted in Chicago, a
city central to his maturation, to the culture 
of his current home, proving himself an artist attentive to the revelatory possibilities of vernacular culture—a focus aligned with the cultural traditions of both cities.

James Yood